A return to real life after more than two weeks’ hiatus is more than a little challenging. We set off on the Thursday afternoon to drive to Manchester, and stayed in a motel-type hotel overnight, before flying to Goa, India, the following day. Needless to say, I could write a hundred blog posts about the experience. This was my first trip to Goa, my longest flight so far, and the first time I had had such a long holiday with just my partner and no children. Every aspect of the experience made me want to write – from the journey north, along the windiest roads imaginable (as my travel sickness will testify), to the hotel, the flight, and the sense of adventure as I set foot in uncharted territory.
What is it about travelling that inspires a person to write? I am as driven to write on my return as I was on my first day in Goa – perhaps because my eyes seem open, my perception sharpened, my awareness so much more acute. Travelling is about the going and the coming back, it seems. In Goa, I was overwhelmed by the heat, the red, dusty roads, the manic traffic, and the sights of jumbled green and brown trees, mangoes and coconuts hanging from high branches, and brightly painted houses and temples. Cows on the roads, and hardly a white face to be seen outside the hotel. It was as if someone pressed the brakes and slowed everything down, the immense heat meaning it was impossible to even think fast. But this was in itself a blessing. A writer abroad – but the first week I wrote hardly anything, and it wasn’t until the second week that my pen found its way into my hand regularly. There seem to be far too few words in the English language to describe the process of uncovering that travel and change can bring about. I sat on beaches praising and blessing the breeze that made the heat tolerable, and swore as I hobbled over the burning sand with scorched toes. I jumped in the strong waves that tossed me onto the rough sand like so much flotsam, and laughed like a child over and over again. I read book after book after book, loving the sense of escapism and marvelling at the power of the writing. I ate meals at the beach – lunches under cover in the beach shacks, moonlit, candlelit dinners on the sand with the waves crashing yards away. I spurned beggers, haggled with hawkers, and tasted the local liquor – Caju Fenny – which is, frankly, indescribable. I bought clothes, tablecloths, bags, trinkets, gifts, and strolled slowly down busy streets breathing air as hot and wet as soup. At night, the air lay around us like a heat blanket, and we sweated and swore and laughed and toasted each other, spraying mosquito repellant and thinking with longing of the cool spring back home. But it was worth the heat, to feel and see and experience so much that was new and exciting. It was as if my mind stored it all up until I reached a point where I could begin to write.
So I wrote about my travels, for a while, and then I had inspiration for another novel, and I wrote the treatment for that, and started drafting some of the narrative – to test out the narrative voice. I am glad that I did, because this gave me something to do during the interminable 11 hours of the return flight, hot and tired and sleep-deprived, scribbling away in my book with my Ipod playing angst music.
And returning to home soil, it is as if I am looking at everything with new eyes, new appreciation, and new understanding. Like waking from a dream to value reality and its predictability and continuing wonder. The intensity of the colours in my carpets at home, the familiarity of my kitchen, the greening spring trees, the cold air, rain on my face – all of these both familiar yet experienced as if new. I wonder then if this is really why many writers like to travel – because it focuses the mind, sharpens that focus, and throws the familiar into relief. Certainly, the effects of this jouney will stay with me as I move forward in my writing journey. I returned to the same workload, and to find the proofs of my novel waiting for review, a strong reminder of the features of ‘real’ life. I returned with renewed vigour, despite the jet lag, and renewed determination.
We are all travelling, one way or another. But sometimes we get to divert to a different path for a while, and experience something beyond our own borders, adding value and depth and richness to our awareness and our imagination as we return. This is travel writing.